Over the final months of 2014, there was a great deal of worry amongst the scientific community over the budget for Horizon 2020. Such worries were entirely justified. A culture within the European Commission of pushing forward expenses to the following year, of using the budget of tomorrow to pay for the expenses of today led to the inevitable – not having enough money to pay our bills.
With the election of the new Commission and Commission President it was time to settle up and it was found that the EU research budget simply did not have enough to pay for research in 2015. When this crisis was averted due to some impressively shrewd negotiating by the European Parliament, in early January 2015 a crisis appeared – President Juncker’s €315 billion investment plan which will be used to fund large scale energy and infrastructure projects.
€2.7 billion of this would be taken from Horizon 2020, specifically from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology and the European Research Council. Whatever your view of the merits of this move, one has to admire the political competence of President Juncker.
In short, President Juncker has taken money from the only places in Horizon 2020, where he was unlikely to face overwhelming opposition from the European Parliament.
For reasons unknown to political pundits in Brussels, including this one, the EIT and the ERC came under extreme fire from the European Parliament during negotiations on the setting up of Horizon 2020 in 2012 and 2013. Where was the money going? What does “excellence in science” mean, how do we define this? How do we ensure the public is getting value for money? Normally the type of questions researchers could expect from industries, MEPs were on the war path, seemingly questioning the value of basic research.
That President Juncker has taken money from these areas is quite a safe move for the new Commission and allows him to earn greater favour with Member States by creating a new source of structural funds for national governments and calling it a different name.
While the scientific community should be concerned about this move this is one battle they won’t win. President Juncker is capitalising on a rare sight in Brussels – the European institutions all in agreement despite stakeholder lobbying. For those dependant on the ERC and EIT for funding, the time is now to look to other potential sources of funds.